Jus ad bellum – is there a just war?

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* If you have watched the news recently, you might have seen Pakistanis threatening to ‘crush’ India, and Indians doing vice-versa. While overheated heads fume and release nothing but hot air, I want to dissertate whether there could be reasons for a just war.

Jus ad bellum, the just war theory, which is embedded in international law, argues that there are sometimes justifications for a state to engage in a war. Unexceptionally, every single requirement has to be met with in order to justify a war.

Firstly, the war must be for a just cause. Such can be self-defence, defence of others, or punishment of severe wrongdoing. It is disputed, however, as to whether preventive self-defence is also included.

Recalling the Iraq war, one can tell how easily preventive measures can be abused and misapplied. Because of its vagueness, severe wrongdoing is also a dangerous definition. Are two beheaded soldiers reason enough for an entire country to go to war? Surely not.

Right Intention

Intimately related with the just cause is the requirement of right intention. That is, the actual intention has to be a moral one. Again, there are plenty of examples where, for instance, America’s intention was different than claimed and by no means moral. Neither would an act of retaliation by India be a sufficient moral reason.

Next is proportionality. Merely if, after weighing the good and the evil of the impending war, the benefits outweigh, one can claim to fight a just war. Once more this is subject to perception. For example, how many lives are worth sacrificing to kill one potential so-called terrorist? Pacifists would argue, none.

At least as important is proportionality at war. According to the jus in bello theory, which is concerned with the right conducts of war, the means implemented in a war have to be proportional. If Israelis flatten the Gaza strip, after Hamas shoots missiles over the border, there can be no talk about proportionality.

The most important constraint is the last resort aspect. Solely, if all other options are exhausted, and all attempts of overcoming the conflict have failed, one is permitted to resort to a war. Yet, this is rarely the case.

Considering all these requirements, it appears that very few wars can be called just. A new Indo-Pakistan war would probably not even fulfil one of the above mentioned points. Most likely none of the previous did either.

A Utopian Ideal

Besides the fact that all mentioned points are extremely vague and predominantly culturally relativistic, they seem to be a utopian ideal. The question is: how worthy is an ideal, if it cannot be achieved?

No wonder realists argue that morality is never present in anarchic international politics which is governed by self-interest, especially when it comes to war. Regarding some of the above mentioned wars, it has a sound ring of truth to it.

At the same time, I could never argue for unconditional pacifism. An often mentioned reason is the Second World War. Should the Americans have not entered the war, even though the Nazis were killing millions of Jews?

And, what about self-defence? The Vietnamese Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh, replied, he would not even kill for self-defence, even if that meant the extermination of Buddhism. “If there is any truth to Buddhism and the Dharma, it will not disappear from the face of the earth, but will reappear when seekers of truth are ready to rediscover it.”

Hiding Behind Ideals

Even though I admire this categorical view, I believe this, too, is an ideal too far to reach for the normal mortal. In both cases, there is nothing wrong about idealism, as long as we implement it to become better people, and not to hide behind them.

* picture: Andrew Curtis
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One thought on “Jus ad bellum – is there a just war?

  1. Pingback: Gandhi’s pacifism today | Indo-German Philosophy

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